Film Review: Last Chance Harvey

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Imagine Paddy Chayefsky's "Marty" saddled with more sentimentality and sprinkled with a few more laughs and you pretty much have "Last Chance Harvey." This sentimental romantic comedy about two aging misfits who find unlikely love benefits enormously from the casting of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Even when British writer-director Joel Hopkins asks them to perform doubtful bits of comedy, they pull it off with a professional nonchalance that is fun to watch.

This Overture Films release plays to an older audience, the kind that often prefers to wait until movies arrive on video or cable. Indulging heavily in feel-good cheer, the film might pick up momentum in its limited Christmas release to boost boxoffice numbers for a wider January opening.

Hoffman's Harvey Shine wanted desperately to be a jazz pianist but, he admits, he "wasn't good enough." That just about sums up both Harvey and Kate, two souls found wanting in so many departments.

Instead of being a musician, Harvey ekes out a living in New York as a commercial jingle writer, which he believes always embarrassed his ex-wife (Kathy Baker) and daughter (Liane Balaban). He wasn't a good enough father, so he's lucky to even get invited to her wedding in London. As he heads to the airport, his boss (Richard Schiff) tells him his job is in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Thompson's Kate is good enough for only a dead-end job interviewing cranky passengers passing through London's Heathrow Airport, disastrous blind dates and a suffocating mother (Eileen Atkins) who rings her mobile phone almost hourly. After a weekend of even more -- and frankly, somewhat forced and predictable -- humiliations for both parties, the two meet by chance in an airport pub. Kate agrees that Harvey's humiliation tops hers -- his daughter decided to let her stepdad (James Brolin) give her away.

From there, Hopkins has his hands full keeping the two together long enough for the misfits to fall believably in love. This entails a trip back to London -- Harvey, of course, has missed his flight and lost his job -- getting-to-know-all-about-you ambles around a postcard-ish London and an opportunity for Harvey to resolve issues with his daughter.

Thanks to his two stars, Hopkins manages most of this without the strain showing. However, the film is dogged by a cinematic deja vu. You can even cite the movies Hopkins might have looked to for story points. Along with "Marty," the whole thing reminds you of "Brief Encounter" with perhaps a dose of Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset" and "Before Sunrise." Harvey's failure to make an agreed-upon rendezvous is straight out of "An Affair to Remember," while Kate's mother's obsessive spying on her suspicious next-door neighbor is a lightly comic reworking of "Rear Window."

The film weighs more heavily toward Harvey and his woes. Hopkins could have invested more time in Kate's background and emotional life. On the surface, she just doesn't seem like someone who is always the odd woman out, and the surface is all this movie scratches.

The tour around London is a polished one as John de Borman's cinematography and Jon Henson's decor are very much designed to please.


A Process production.
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Kathy Baker, James Brolin, Eileen Atkins, Richard Schiff.
Director-screenwriter: Joel Hopkins.
Producers: Tim Perell, Nicola Usborne.
Executive producer: Jawal Nga.
Director of photography: John de Borman.
Production designer: Jon Henson.
Music: Dickon Hinchliffe.
Costume designer: Natalie Ward.
Editor: Robin Sales.
Rated PG-13, 92 minutes.

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